Beyond proud - overawed and inspired.
Back in 2007, during a regular tramp across the garbage dump of Steung Meanchey, I came across a teen girl who had left school in Grade 4 and, with few other options to survive, scavenged the waste for food and recyclables. Her name was Srey Mom.
Too old to return to school, her dream was to learn to work in the garment industry or to train in hairdressing and make-up. We had a just started a small hairdressing and garment vocational centre, so Mom and her cousin left the horrors of the garbage dump forever and started on the path to their dream. As you'd expect, they were just about the happiest teens you could find. With their families cared for, 3 meals a day, learning their dream vocational and making life-long friends. But something gnawed inside me. Seeing them so happy and contented was wonderful... however I had an ongoing sense that somehow I was failing them.
It took me 2 years to figure it out. Their dreams were confined to their limited view of the world and, most of all, their own belief in what they could achieve. When you work 7 days on a garbage dump, garment work appears as a dream. I wasn't fulfilling their dreams as much as enabling them to remain within their confines.
These teen girls had such inner strength from their former lives, the compassion to raise younger siblings and so much ambition. Most of all, they had the courage of lions.
So we all met one afternoon and made a deal: give me 12 months of your life to show you your potential. I promised to put them well out of their comfort zones and, at the end of 12 months they could choose to return to vocational training - or choose an altogether new path.
So began CCF's Leadership Program. Each girl - 22 of them at that point - went through an intense cycle of community & leadership programs, including child care, early childhood development, nutrition, social work, health care, gender rights, communications and public speaking. In the evenings they studied English and computer classes and helped launch our food programs. They became active mentors to nearly 100 young teens. Nearly 3 years on, none have returned to full-time vocational training.
And Mom. That's her in the 2nd photo, flying to London this week, as one of BBC's "100 Women". She's speaking on women's rights, debating gender issues with her peers and mapping a better life for the next generation of girls - on national TV.
I still can't take it all in. I'm so grateful to have been part of her journey, to help Mom find her true self. I am in awe at what she has become - Mom, the fearless, beautiful, generation-changer - and can only imagine what she can do in her lifetime.